If you have been attending extensive hari-katha in recent years then you may have heard or read the story of Radha’s parrot generally known as Sriya Suka. The story is paraphrased as follows:
One day Lord Siva was speaking the Bhagavatam for his wife Parvati to hear. As Siva spoke in deep rapture, Parvati herself was not so attentive and began to slumber. A parrot however was sitting nearby and he appeared to be listening to Lord Siva as he spoke. Suddenly Siva could see that Parvati had not been listening. Then he understood that the parrot had seemed to have taken it all in. Siva began to reflect that this ignorant bird had heard the Bhagavatam but would simply repeat it, as parrots are prone to do and thus make a mockery of the great message of Bhagavatam. Siva thus decided to terminate the parrot, at which time the bird took flight in great fear with Siva in hasty pursuit. The chase was on and the parrot soon reached the ashram of Vyasadeva where he flew into the mouth of Vatika, Vyasadeva’s wife, entering her womb. The parrot was now safe. For sixteen years the parrot stayed within the womb of Vatika before taking birth, becoming known as Sukadeva, the son of Vyasa, and eventually as the speaker of the Bhagavatam to Maharaja Pariksit.
Yet we are told that the original identity of Sukadeva was that of Srimati Radharani’s pet parrot. The story goes thus:
Radha’s pet parrot (suka) used to sit on Her left hand while She would affectionately feed him the seeds from pomegranate fruit. She would pet him affectionately telling him “Bolo Krishna! Bolo Krishna!” This parrot would then sweetly utter the Names of Krishna. “One day that suka flew away to Nandagrama to Krishna who was sitting within a kunja (Garden) with His friend Madhumangala and others. The suka sat on a branch of a pomegranate tree and very sweetly began to utter Krishna’s Name, “Krishna, Krishna.” Krishna looked toward the suka and was moved. The parrot spoke again, “Oh, I am very wretched and unfortunate. I am kritaghna, ungrateful, and don’t recognize the good qualities of anyone. For I have left my mistress and have come here.” He uttered this in such a pitiable manner that Krishna was both astonished and impressed. He at once took the parrot, who was Srimati Radhika’s own, in His hand and began to fondle him.
“After Krishna’s manifest lila ended, by the order of Krishna, the parrot, to manifest Bhagavatam, remained in this world. Later, he entered into the mouth of Vyasadeva’s wife and remained for 16 years. This Sukadeva is “ sriya suka,” the suka of Srimati Radharani.”
The first part of this story involving the parrot flying into the mouth of Vatika and taking shelter in her womb is confirmed in the Moksa-dharma Parva of Mahabharata, Brahma-vaivarta Purana and the Skanda Purana. Once Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura was asked by a noted pandita from Assam as to what was the origin of Sukadeva Goswami. Sarasvati Thakura replied as follows:
In the Puranas we find two conclusions regarding the appearance of Sukadeva. One story says that he took the form of Suka from the arani wood after Vyasa saw the naked apsara, Ghrtaci. The other story says that he was born from the womb of the wife of Vyasa. (Conversation with Sri Atmarama Shastri, Assam, October 25th 1928, The Gaudiya)
These two very different accounts for an origin of Sukadeva can be understood according to different kalpas (kalpa-bheda). In one kalpa Sukadeva appeared from the arani wood and from another kalpa (our kalpa) he appeared from the womb of Vatika. This has also been collaborated by Srila B.R. Sridhara Maharaja as follows:
When Mahadeva was talking about Krishna to his wife Durga (Parvati), then Durga-devi slept while attending the talk of Mahadeva. And one bird, suka-paksi (parrot), he was hearing also, listening. And Mahadeva was regularly, now and then, asking Parvati, “Do you hear?”
“Yes!” And the bird was continuing the answer, “Yes!”
Though Durga slept, Mahadeva was continuing. But at last Siva found out that Durga was sleeping and the bird was answering – then he chased the bird and the bird went. Suddenly somehow he managed to enter within the womb of a woman (Vatika). And then, by any function (vidhata), he came out as a man. Suka was his name. (Conversation, July 10th 1982)
Part two of the story, wherein the pet parrot of Radharani flew to Nandagrama and entered the kunja where Krishna was seated, is cited in the eighth stavaka of Ananda Vrindavana Campu by Sri Kavi Karnapura – a very sweet and charming narration.
Part three of the story, however, wherein Krishna orders the parrot to remain in this world and manifest the Bhagavatam is not cited in any sastra or by any previous acharya. Part three, it seems, is a conjecture. In other words, there is no evidence in literature or in the commentaries of previous ahcaryas that Sukadeva Goswami in krishna-lila was the pet parrot of Radharani. In this regard we find a very interesting statement by Srila Sridhara Maharaja:
Vyaso vetti na vetti va – whatever Krishna wants to do, that is done. Sukadeva was the great exponent of Bhagavatam, but it is not found that he is in the highest position of krishna-lila. What he is delivering through his mouth, through tongue - so many high things have been transmitted through his tongue, but he may not have his stand in that plane. We don't find that Sukadeva has got his permanent position in Radha-Krishna’s lila, or in the madhurya-rasa as a particular sakhi also.
But that what Sukadeva has given to us through his mouth, that is unfathomable…he is delivering – akuntha-medhasa. He is going on. These things were coming through him flowing in a natural way. What he has delivered through his nectarine tongue has no comparison in the world ever, anywhere. But still he is considered in that way – from the general position of his previous consideration (a brahmavadi). Jagama bhiksubhih sakam – after giving delivery to all these things, he went away along with the beggars to nowhere. He did not care to meet Vyasadeva, his father and guru, nor his father’s guru Narada, there in the meeting. He did not care for that. He chose to be unseen. He came from the unseen and entered into it again...an untraceable, solitary life. But there was his guru, parama-guru – he did not care. Hare Krishna!
So he was selected as some machine, loudspeaker…something like that. The inspiration came only to help – that Bhagavata is above Vedanta, above jnana. The jnanis and yogis formed the major portion of the audience, so Sukadeva was necessary. Suka-mukhad amrita-drava-samyutam. To the audience at large, it was proved that Bhagavata is more than this non-differentiatedness - the nirvisesavada. Sukadeva was necessary. That must come from him, Then those fellows will have some regard. At least they won't say, "Oh, we know all these things, from Padma Purana, from Brahma-vaivarta Purana, we have seen all those things – what is there more?" But when colored by the brahma-jnana of Sukadeva Goswami it was received with rapt attention…he gave to their ears Bhagavata. (Conversation, August 20th 1982)
In another conversation Srila Sridhara Maharaja goes into further detail on this topic:
Sukadeva Goswami has given us so many things, even rasa-lila, Gopi-gita, Radharani's vilapa, Krishna's pastimes with His friends, vatsalya-rasa – but still he is generally not considered to be established in the highest position of the rasa world. For some purpose, that rasa was given through him, but that does not mean that he has entered there and he is established there. For the particular service and purpose of the Lord, through him it was given to the world. Just as pralapita-vakya -– he does not know, though all these higher thoughts pass through him. He was a peon of those higher deliberations, but he himself has no permanent settlement in the highest quarter. We do not hear about that.
He was utilized by Krishna to give it to the public for the facility of their conviction for such men who are sinners – who are Mayavadis and jnanis. Then he was again converted into krishna-lila. So krishna-lila must be above jnana. It is practically helpful – such a sinner is converted overnight. So to give these teachings to the world, to help the public and the necessity for the devotion and preaching facility, he has been utilized by the higher power. But he himself does not possess. We are told like that. Though many things were unknown to him, it has been delivered through him – vyaso vetti na vetti va. Just as there is a saying that Vyasa has given everything, but he may not know the real purport.
Devotee: But that verse says, aham vedmi suko vetti vyaso vetti na vetti va. It says that Suka knows! Now we are saying he does not know.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: That is from one plane. This is talk of Siva himself. But Siva’s knowledge is also limited. The knowledge of the author of this sloka – his realization is also limited. From his standpoint he says like so – aham vedmi, suko vetti vyaso vetti na vetti va. The higher knowledge can make the lower an instrument, to serve His purpose. Something like that. (Conversation, August 22nd 1981)
From the above conversations it is clear that Srila Sridhara Maharaja says:
1) Sukadeva Goswami is not found to be in the highest position of krishna-lila.
2) That Sukadeva does not have his stand in that plane.
3) That we don't find that Sukadeva has got his permanent position in Radha-Krishna’s lila.
4) That Sukadeva came from the unseen and entered into it again.
5) That his delivery of Bhagavatam was as some machine, “a loudspeaker…something like that.”
What Sridhara Maharaja has said about Sukadeva is so much deeper than what the shallow thinkers are able to appreciate.
In other words, Sukadeva Goswami did not come down from Krishna-lila from a previous position as a parrot to speak Bhagavatam as some persons have suggested. Rather, Sukadeva’s previous position was that of Brahman realization and his ability to speak Bhagavatam was due to the causeless mercy of Krishna and nothing else.
In Chapter 22 of Jaiva Dharma, Thakura Bhaktivinoda confirms that Sukadeva was the recipient of the causeless mercy of Krishna:
The mercy of Krishna is of three types – vachika, alokadana and hardda. Instances where Krishna rewards all three types of mercy are found in the scriptures. In vacika, Krishna simply promises His devotee by word of mouth, and immediately that all-benedicting crest-jewel embodiment of divine bliss and transcendentally willful bhakti that seeks only Krishna to serve, awakens as bhava within his heart. An example of alokodana-krpa are the sages of Dandakaranya forest, who had never directly seen the Supreme Lord. But as soon as they beheld the Lord, their hearts were flooded with bhava and bhakti, simply by the mercy of the Lord. Bhava which spontaneously sprouts within the heart, as in the case of Srila Sukadeva Goswami, is due only to the causeless mercy of the Lord, or hardda-krpa.
So the story of Sriya Suka seems to be a compendium of the actual story of the birth of Sukadeva, having first entered the womb of Vatika as a parrot, from the Puranas; then combined with a completely different story of Radha’s pet parrot from Ananda Vrindavana Campu and concluded with a ‘rasika’ style twist.
Strangely enough, no one has been able to put forward any evidence, either sastrika or from previous acharyas, to prove that Sukadeva Goswami’s identity in krishna-lila was that of Radha’s pet parrot or that Sukadeva has any standing in krishna-lila. To the contrary, we found that in more than 75% of the cases where we approached the heads of various Sahajiya communities in Vrindavana for verification of the third part of the story, they replied that it was conjecture by someone trying to stand out as a rasika. This was strange indeed coming from the Sahajiyas.
As it turns out, many members of today’s Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya (particularly among western branches) are the most prone to tell the story of “Sriya Suka/Radha’s Parrot” in their hari-katha. This is especially true among those who are sentimentalists and gate-crashers of the highest lila of Krishna. True and sad as it may be, such are the attempts of the ignorant spurred on by ignoble leaders claiming to be Vaishnavas of the highest order. Some persons have deviated even further and gone so far as to conjecture that Sukadeva Goswami was actually a manjari in krishna-lila, surpassing even the position of Radha’s parrot. But such conjectures are a shabby substitute for sastrika truth.
Someone may ask, “What difference does it make even if some of the story is conjecture? It is still sweet anyway!” The answer is that such conjectures are bitter and distasteful like neem-boli (the fruit of the Neem tree) to those whose hearts are truly filled with the nectar of krishna-prema. Even a little conjecture of the truth spoils the whole thing. It becomes rasabhasa – rasa with artificial sweetener.
Some contemporary Vaishnavas are so confused regarding higher and lower topics, that they prefer the devotion of Sukadeva over that of great personalities such as Prahlada Maharaja and Advaita Acharya, saying that such personalities cannot give Krishna-prema. They speak of krishna-prema as though it were a handout from the public welfare services and all one need do is just take it (take initiation from the rasika). This understanding is indeed pitiful. Such a mentality springs from the deepest ignorance born of “amara guru jagat-guru” and smacks of pigheadedness and false egotism.
Mahaprabhu Himself became very angry when Srivasa Pandita tried to compare Advaita Acharya with Sukadeva. Mahaprabhu rebuked Srivasa with a slap and told him that Sukadeva was a mere infant compared to Advaita who had the deepest connection with caitanya-lila. The story appears in Caitanya-bhagavata, Antya-khanda 9.282-296 as follows:
The Lord said, “O Srivasa, tell Me what type of Vaishnava do you think Advaita Prabhu is.”
Srivasa Pandita thought for a while and finally said, “I consider Him to be similar to Sukadeva or Prahlada.”
Upon hearing the comparison of Advaita with Prahlada and Sukadeva, the Lord became angry and hit Srivasa.
Just as an affectionate father beats his son in order to teach him, similarly the Lord gave a slap to Srivasa.
“What did you say? What did you say, Pandita Srivasa? You are comparing My Nada (Advaita) with Sukadeva or Prahlada!
“You may claim that Sukadeva is fully liberated, but compared to Nada, he is like a child.
“How dare you say such a thing about My Nada? O Srivasa, today you have put Me in great distress.”
Saying this, the Lord in an angry mood grabbed a stick in His hand and ran after Srivasa to hit him. Sri Advaita Acharya then stood up and gently caught hold of the Lord's hand.
“O Lord, a father teaches his sons out of compassion. So who in the three worlds is a suitable candidate for Your anger?”
“Hearing the words of Advaita Acharya, the Lord gave up His anger and in ecstasy began to profusely glorify Advaita.
The Lord said, “Since all of you are just like My children, My anger has now dissipated.
“Who can understand the glories of Nada? It was He who awakened Me from sleep and called Me here.
The Lord said, “O Srivasa, is this how you show respect to My Nada?
“Suka and others are like His children. You should know that they are all junior to Nada.”
Our conclusion is as Srila Sridhara Maharaja and others have stated – that Sukadeva Goswami has no permanent position in krishna-lila and that he was empowered by the causeless mercy of Krishna to speak Srimad Bhagavatam.
I am writing this essay on Sriya Suka to set straight the record because I too have told this conjectured story in the past as though it were true thru and thru. To err is human, but to admit one’s mistakes and to be rectified with the proper understanding is to make real advancement. To remain in ignorance – even if one thinks that such ignorance is bliss – is to continue on the path of doom!